Defining Followership

July 26, 2012 — 2 Comments

Followership is the art and skill of effectively following a leader towards the achievement of a vision.

Followership
Followership can exist in many contexts from sports teams to a formal work office to a church volunteer based project.  Followership, however, does not mean that you blatantly follow with no thoughts or comprehension about what is actually going on (Bjugstad, Thach, Thompson, & Morris, 2006, p. 304).  Why is followership important?  Even though followership is not something that is commonly researched or regarded as a skill to strive for, business thinkers and strategists agree that the success of leaders is highly dependent upon the ability of followers (Lundin & Lancaster, 1990, p. 18).

Followership first started being researched in 1933 by Mary Parker Follett. She advocated more research on the topic because of it’s utmost importance (Bjugstad et al., 2006, p. 304).  Followers play an extremely important role at every level of an organization.  This is because no matter who you are, everyone reports to someone.  The Campaign Associate at United Way of Stanislaus County reports to the Director of Campaign, and the Director of Campaign reports to the President/CEO, and the President/CEO reports to the President of the Board of Directors, and the President of the Board of Directors reports to the entire Board of Directors, and the Board of Directors ultimately reports to the donors and community.

Everyone reports to and “follows” someone; thus the need for quality followership is an important topic for anyone. In our truest form as a human being, whether we work for the military, a church, a business, or a nonprofit organization, we are all followers.  Lieutenant Colonels Sharon M. Latour and Vicki J. Rash (2004) assert, “We are followers—following is a natural part of life and an essential role we play” (p. 102). With this specific definition of followership, both followers and leaders are needed because “effort from both leaders and followers is required for effective change” (Mosley & Patrick, 2011, p. 97).  The characteristics of followership, the things a follower does or does not do, help the leader and the organization.  The organization progresses towards its vision and the achievement of its goals when quality followership is displayed by the people working at the organization.

There are many characteristics of followership that can be listed, but like any research process will discover, there are common characteristics of followership which can be noted.  Perhaps the greatest characteristic of followership is the ability to complete tasks and projects that help to move the organization forward towards its vision.  Leaders set the agenda and lead the way toward the vision they set, and followers help that vision be realized by assisting the progress of the organization to get there.  They support the leaders’ decisions by being competent and dependable (Cavell, 2007, p. 144).  The competency and dependence they display help to move the organization toward the vision it hopes to realize.  Thankfully, there are various researchers with different empirical and experimental evidence to explain how followership is mainly displayed in a followers’ ability to help move an organization towards the achievement of its vision.

Two military women define the characteristics of followership as the need for high organizational commitment, to be adaptable to change, independent, a critical thinker, and competent (Latour & Rast, 2004, p. 106).  A business view of followership is that a follower must adequately understand the organization, be able to make good decisions, possess enthusiasm for the work, and communicate well in order to maximize quality teamwork (Lundin & Lancaster, 1990, p. 19).

A slightly different view of followership says that its characteristics are displaying loyalty to the organization and boss, functioning well in a changing environment, working well as part of a team, and possessing integrity (Latour & Rast, 2004, p. 109).  Finally, a pharmacist view of effective followership is that they manage themselves well, maintain a commitment to a person, purpose or principle outside themselves, focus efforts for the biggest impact possible, and are courageous (Hertig, 2010, p. 1412).

These many qualities lead to a level of followership that allows a person to move the organization to achieving the vision the leader has determined.  Ultimately, “Leaders should become more effective because of their improved understanding of the follower-leader relationships” (Bjugstad et al., 2006, p. 316).

Followership in its truest form is about displaying the key qualities necessary to move the organization forward, which also happens to be the request of a leader.  Leaders want followers who are able to implement ideas, make decisions, think well, have integrity and honesty, and help the leader implement the vision she has in her head.  No leader can achieve greatness alone; thus followers displaying followership qualities are needed.  “Developing dynamic followership is a discipline. It is jointly an art and a science requiring skill and conceptualization of roles in innovative ways—one perhaps more essential to mission success than leader development.

Without followership, a leader at any level will fail to produce effective institutions” (Bjugstad et al., 2006, p. 316). Displaying these characteristics of followership is hard work and it takes discipline.  This means that followership helps the organization move towards the achievement of a vision.  Without quality followership, the vision would not be realized.

Question: What do you believe followership is?

References

Bjugstad, K., Thach, E.C., Thompson, K.J., & Morris, A. (2006). A fresh look at followership: A model for matching followership and leadership styles. Journal of Behavior and Applied Management, 7(3), 304-319.

Davell, D.P. (2007). Leadership or followership: One or both? Healthcare Financial Management, 61(11), 142,144.

Hertig, J. (2010). Followership: Nontraditional leadership roles for new practitioners. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 67(17), 1412-1413.

Latour, S.M., & Rast, V.J. (2004). Dynamic followership: The prerequisite for effective leadership. Air & Space Power Journal, 18(4), 102-110.

Lundin, S.C., & Lancaster, L.C. (1990). Beyond leadership. . . The Importance of Followership. The Futurist, 24(3), 18-22.

Mosley, D.C. & Patrick, D.K. (2011). Leadership and Followership: The dynamic process of building high performance cultures. Organization Development Journal, 29(2), 85-100.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Fresno Pacific University and master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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